WASHINGTON — The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment aid fell to a four-year low last week, bolstering the view that the job market is strengthening.

WASHINGTON — The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment aid fell to a four-year low last week, bolstering the view that the job market is strengthening.

The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly applications dropped 5,000 to a seasonally adjusted 348,000. That's the lowest level since March 2008, just months into the Great Recession. The four-week average of applications, a less volatile measure, dipped to 355,000, matching a four-year low.

Applications have steadily declined since last fall.

The drop has coincided with the best three months of hiring in two years.

From December through February, employers added an average of 245,000 jobs per month. That's pushed down the unemployment rate to 8.3 percent, the lowest in three years.

The report suggests that employers added a similar level of jobs this month. This week's figures cover the same week that the Labor Department surveys companies about hiring in March. Applications are slightly lower this week than in February's survey week, which points to more job growth.

"U.S. employment growth looks to have continued in March at a respectable pace," Jennifer Lee, an economist at BMO Capital Markets.